21 June 2020: I still have severe erectile dysfunction according to the International Index of Erectile Function. What a blessing to have a partner with whom I can laugh, cry, connect and learn. We have been fumbling, laughing and loving our way into the new normal in our lovemaking.

Here’s an extract from my journal:

“Really awkward conversations with Colleen about how our libidos are intertwined. What turns us on. How to be sexual without erections. Being with radical uncertainty and not blaming each other.” ( 21 June 2020)

Spontaneity when differently able

My first problem was wanting sex to be spontaneous. My wife has taught me that while love and desire are spontaneous, there are practical aspects to making love that need preparation. I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t fully learn that lesson in our fertile years because my partner took more responsibility for practical aspects of birth control than me.

Now, without spontaneous erections, I have a direct physical need to prepare for sex. I want to find the time of day when my body is most likely to sprout at least a bit of swelling. It turns out that happens best in the mornings. Then, if we get frisky, I need to have my trusty vacuum pump (VED) and ring close at hand to supplement what nature provides.

A perspex Zeppelin in the bedroom

vacuum pump like a blimp in bed

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

A vacuum erectile device (VED) is three times the size of a porn star’s erection and a lot more ungainly. I wrote about this previously under the heading of the solo yoga of penile rehabilitation.

Now we are trying to bring it into our relationship. It’s a bit like trying to share your bed with your partner and a great big perspex Zeppelin or blimp.

What is worse, I have to somehow get a silicone ring over my limp penis, then thread my floppy sausage into the perspex pump, and literally pump my old friend into standing up. I’ve hived off the gory details and practical tips for fellow sufferers here.

Messy, fumbling, awkward: first time failure

So here we are, beginning to breathe heavily, not having had conventional sex for months since my surgery, and now I have to roll over, haul out this great big pump, slather my miniscule flaccid penis with lube and try to get pumping. Then there is an air leak and I’m rooting around trying to get errant pubic hairs out of the works.

Undignified. Messy. I feel about as unsexy as a man can feel.

The first time we try this I’m so caught up in the mechanics that I pump till I am blue in the face without more than a millimetre of swelling in that recalcitrant sausage between my legs. Even though we have lube everywhere and pubic hair neatly tucked away. The blood simply won’t flow where I desperately want it to go. We have to give up.

Messy and awkward: Where did we have that before?

In the aftermath of this failure, my wife delivers one of those life lessons I won’t easily forget:

“Remember when we were young and I used a diaphragm for birth control,” she says. “Don’t you remember how awkward and messy it was when I had to shove that ten-centimetre rubber disk up my most sensitive orifice? Just so we could make love!”

I do remember. I remember how sometimes it would slip out of her fingers due to all the lube she had to spread around the circumference of what we called the “cap”. It was so tightly sprung that sometimes it would shoot halfway across the bed.

And the honest truth is this: I was so eager for what was coming next, that I barely noticed the awkwardness. I do remember being grateful to her for taking care of birth control, and admiring her calm presence. But most of those memories were blotted out by the sheer joy and delight of what we were able to co-create in the lovemaking that followed.

So we have a clear precedent: it is completely OK to (a) plan and prepare, and (b) get messy and awkward in service of a fulfilling sexual connection.

Laughter – the essential ingredient

Actually, getting that messy was kind of funny, if only I could see it. Having my penis, this universal symbol of male pride and power, flopping helplessly in a sea of lube and being chased like a lost sheep into the corral of the pump – it’s actually hilarious! And in truth, all good sex is messy anyway.

Once we start laughing, the whole situation eases. Miraculously it also gets more sexy.

Again, my deep gratitude for having a partner who is wise, patient and persistent enough to hang in there with me through my awkwardness. Tolerating failed attempts and seeing the humour – until we are actually able to laugh together, fumble, and enjoy ourselves.

A deeper transformation for me

It begins to dawn on me that I need to get away from expecting my body to perform in a particular way. It is deeply unsettling to have my most primal reflexes simply cut off. But somewhere even deeper than that is a desire to connect that can find new ways.

It doesn’t have to look pretty or be configured the way it used to be, but we can still make love. Given that pumped-up erections are still not as much fun as natural ones, I suspect there is still a lot more for me to learn about erectionless sex and loving relationship.

An edited version of this post also appears on the Psychology Today website.